Yesterday on the House floor, Congressman Daines introduced the Making Public Lands Public Act. Nearly identical to a bill Sen. Jon Tester introduced several years ago, this bill would authorize 1.5% (or no more than $10,000,000) of Land and Water Conservation Funding (LWCF) to be directed to secure greater access to our public lands.
You know those checkerboard Forest Service and BLM pieces that you sneer at enviously on your hunting maps and GPS? This would allow federal agencies to prioritize isolated public parcels that have “significantly restricted access for hunting, fishing and other recreation purposes” and acquire rights-of-way or acquire those properties.
While this is an important first step, in order for Daines’ bill to do Montanans any good, the Land and Water Conservation Fund needs to be fully funded and reauthorized. While everyone agrees increased public access to public lands is a good thing, there is still uncertainty on just how much money we’re talking about. As Daines presented his bill on the house floor yesterday, Senator Tester presented a Democratic Senator sign-on letter submitted to the Obama Administration requesting full re-authorization of LWCF funds.
What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
Not only is LWCF funding instrumental in growing Montana’s outdoor economy, it also pumps in nearly $6 billion to Montana’s economy and supports 64,000 jobs. Not to mention pays for everything from state fishing access sites to access purchases such as Tenderfoot Cr. and the Montana Legacy Project. But in a time of trying to ratchet down government spending, funding LWCF isn’t such an easy sell for fiscal conservatives who would rather see offshore oil and gas revenues put into the general budget than remain available as conservation dollars.
And the numbers keep shrinking. In the last decade, Congress only appropriated an average of $313 million annually, or less than 5% of the available offshore revenues. Unfortunately this has resulted in federal land management agencies not having been able to take advantage of willing seller opportunities that would have protected important wildlife habitats from development and provided more places for Montana hunters to pursue game.
While Daines has certainly primed a valuable conversation in Congress related to public land access, the keg still needs some powder.